Camera Designs - Cameras before 1900
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Cameras before 1900

It is one of the intriguing things about the history of photography that "cameras" existed before photography had been invented. For several centuries artists had used a portable camera obscura to help them draw scenes accurately. 
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Camera : Artist's Camera Obscura
Date : 18th Century
Light entering through the lens is reflected by an angled mirror inside the box, the mirror projected an image on the ground glass screen at the top. The screen was shielded from surrounding light by a folding hood. The artist placed a thin piece of paper on the glass and traced the image. 

Soon after Louis Daguerre's announcement in 1839 of his photographic process he designed the first camera to be commercially produced. It used plates 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches (16.5  by 21.5 cm), these became know as "whole plates" and was a standard for many years.

Daguerre's design was based upon the artists sliding box camera obscura. The inner box slides in and out to focus the picture.

Camera : Sliding Box Camera
Date : c1850s
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William Fox Talbot, like Daguerre, had used a  large camera obscura. But he found the exposes times were far too long. Talbot then realised that tiny cameras using short focal length lenses would concentrate light on a smaller area. 

Talbot fitted microscope lenses, the best made lenses of the time, to little cameras. His wife called them "mousetraps". One of these very small cameras, measuring only 2.5 inches each side was used by Talbot to take his very first successful photograph.

Please click here for detailed viewing Camera : Talbot's "Mousetrap"
Date : c1839
The crude lenses used by Daguerre were  far too inefficient in gathering light. Joesef Max Petzval, a 33 year old professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, took nearly a year to compute the design of a new lens and have it properly made. In 1841 the first camera fitted with this lens was  introduced by Voigtländer and Sons, a maker of telescopes and other optical equipment. The camera looked more like a telescope but it was the lens that mattered. The Petzval lens gathered 16 times more light than other lenses and became the standard for the next 60 years. However Petzval was only honoured after his death as one of the founders of photography.
Camera : Voigtländer / Petzval lens
Manufacturer : Voigtländer & Sons
Date : c1841
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In 1851 glass "wet plates" were introduced. These needed immediate processing so the photographers had to carry around a portable darkroom as well as the camera. There was, therefore, a need to reduce the size of cameras. During the 1850s manufacturers used leather bellows to produce folding cameras. In 1856 C.G.H Kinnar designed a camera with tapered bellows. These could concertina into a much smaller space than parallel sided bellows as each fold fitted inside the next. This design is still in use today.
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Camera : The Tourograph
Manufacturer : E & T Underwood 
Date : c1897
Dry plates superceded wet plates in the late 1870's however the basic camera design did not change. It was still important to have a camera which could fold into a convenient size even though the photographer no longer needed to carry a portable darkroom. 

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Folding half-plate camera, plate holders (right) and
a roller blind (left) that pushed over the lens, c1900
In 1895 Fredrick H. Sanderson patented a mechanism for swinging the front lens panel. The use of camera movements are described in PhotoScience - Forming the image.
Camera : Sanderson Regular
Manufacturer : G. Houghton & Sons
Date : c1903-1920s
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Stereoscopic photography was very popular in the 19th Century and various designs for cameras and viewers were made. The stereoscopic camera took two pictures from slightly different view points. An impression of a three dimensional image is created when these are viewed so that each eye only sees one photograph 
Please click here for detailed viewing Camera : Stereo Weno
Manufacturer : Blair Camera Co.
Date : 1902-1903
As the general public became more involved in photography there was the need to introduce "hand" cameras. These were often smaller versions of the front folding plate cameras from earlier in the 19th Century. 
Camera : Klapp Tropical Model
Manufacturer : H. Ernemann
Date : 1904-1926
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Viewfinders were added and with the faster emulsion speeds a shutter was necessary. However another design, the folding strut camera was also popular.
Please click here for detailed viewing Camera : Anschutz (strut-type)
Manufacturer : C.P. Goerz
Date : 1896-1910
In 1888 the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Co. of Rochester, New York, introduced the Kodak. The word Kodak was made up by George Eastman as a trade mark, it soon became synonymous with this type of camera. Later the company changed its name to Eastman Kodak due to the success of the new camera. 

Although the Kodak was not the first roll-film camera its immense popularity was due to the full developing and printing service that went with it. 

The Kodak was 6 1/2 inches long and 3 3/4 inches high, it came ready loaded with film and was tied and sealed to show that it was fresh from the factory. When one hundred pictures had been taken the camera was returned to Kodak who processed the pictures. 
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You pulled the cord to set the shutter and pressed the button to release it. A viewfinder was not regarded as necessary. It used paper rolls to start with, but by 1889 Eastman introduced celluloid roll-film. The Kodak made photography accessible to the general public for the first time.

Camera : The Kodak
Manufacturer : Eastman Dry Plate & Film Co.
Date : 1888-1889
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Camera : The Kodak (replica)
Manufacturer : Eastman Kodak
Date : Replica 1988
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Camera : Kodak Pocket
Manufacturer : Eastman Kodak
Date : 1895-1900
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In 1892 S.N. Turner's company introduced the Bull's-Eye camera. Until this time cameras had to be loaded in the dark, but Turner rolled the film up with black backing paper so it could be loaded in daylight. He also put a number on the back of the paper and a small red window in the back of the camera so the number could be seen by the photographer. In 1895 George Eastman bought out Turner's company and patent. The camera continued to be made under the Eastman Kodak name.
Camera : No. 2 Bull's-Eye
Manufacturer : Eastman Kodak
Date : 1895-1913
The box camera design was simple and successful. Many box cameras had long production lives, for example the Box Tengor was in production for over 30 years.
Camera : Box Tengor
Manufacturer : Zeiss Ikon
Date : c1925-1956
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The box camera was not very compact so in 1897 Eastman Kodak introduced a range of folding cameras called the Folding Pocket Kodaks.

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